by Bart Egnal
Battered. In the hurt box. Hammered.
I’m not referring to my physiological state. I’m describing how my bike probably feels after regular use and abuse. While my mileage is nowhere near pro level (hence, I’m still happily married), the 15,000 km I’ve put on my bikes during the past two years have resulted in everything from two broken spokes, a broken derailleur hanger, an out-of-true wheel, a busted hub, a noisy bottom bracket (twice), a broken caliper, a misaligned disc rotor, a slipping cassette and various worn out chains. These all have required surgical interventions. There have also been the “elective surgeries,” such as wheel sticker changes (very important to be matchy-matchy), hood adjustments, power-pedal fixing, mystery noise eliminations and more.
While I could claim that I did all or most of this work myself, I would be lying. I instead count on a team of incredible mechanics, who have 10 times more knowledge than I will ever be able to accumulate. What I have learned instead is how to get the most out of the mechanic/ racer partnership. Now, if you’re one of those resourceful, YouTube-taught, do-it-yourselfers, you might as well stop reading this article. But if you are keen to understand the way to a mechanic’s heart (hint – alcohol speeds the journey), read on.
Like your spouse, choose your mechanic carefully. Not all are created equally. You need a mechanic who is both knowledgeable and temperamentally suited to your needs. “While there are professional certifications for car mechanics,” Michael Barry told me, “there are no equivalent formal qualifications for those who work on bikes. This means you have to do your due diligence before committing.” On a recent trip to Palo Alto,Calif., I stopped into a high-end shop for help with properly torquing my power pedals. (They must be 34 Nm, in case you were wondering.) The shop mechanics gazed in amazement at the crow-foot adaptor I’d brought and expressed bewilderment at the torque needed. Had I lived in Palo Alto, these would not be the mechanics I would choose to work on my bikes.
Once you’ve found the right mechanic, trust him or her to do the job. Javier Garcia at Wheels of Bloor said it’s surprising and frustrating how often he encounters instant experts. “After requesting service, they tell us that they studied YouTube on how to fix the problem, and then insist on telling us what they learned. It can be insulting when you consider how many years of experience our team of mechanics have. We’ve seen your problem already and have fixed it before,” he said.
Expect to pay. The rise of Probikekit and other online bike services mean that racers can buy things cheap. (Oh, and bike racers have to be some of the most broke athletes of all time. Those who aren’t seem to be infected by broke-itis.) But there’s a reason the shop charges more – they have to cover their service costs. So if you buy a new groupset online, don’t bring it to the shop and ask them to “install it quickly for me,” and then haggle over the cost. Don’t also expect to have a “quick fix” and not be charged for it: you need to help pay for the space, tools and labour you just took advantage of. In my experience, if you never quibble on service costs the mechanics tend to not charge you for the small stuff.
Clean and fix what you can. If you’re bringing the CX bike in for a derailleur
fix, try to remove the mud that you accumulated on the drivetrain last race. Don’t “forget” about it, hoping the mechanic will take care of it for you. That would make you a douche bag. Be empathetic and understanding. Maybe it’s the bike racer mentality, but racers seem to be rough on equipment. “They ride their bikes into the ground, with parts reaching the state of near non-functionality before they
are brought into us” said Rob Chan at La Bicicletta in Vancouver. “Then they come in expecting service on the spot because there’s a race that weekend.” Mechanics are there to help, but if you’re an ass, they can easily move your bike to the end of the queue. So don’t be an ass.
Finally, say thank you the right way. You may be paying the shop, but you need to also give back to the people who work on your pride and joy. Know your mechanic’s name. Take the time to get to know your mechanic. Know the kind of alcohol your wrench likes. Bring said alcohol frequently. Say thank you again.
When your bike is running smoothly and quietly, you just feel more confident in races. So find a mechanic you can trust and build a long-term relationship with him or her. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to call my mechanic to find out how the installation of the motor is coming on my world championship-ready cyclocross bike.